May 10, 2015

What might legislative middle ground look like? Some ideas

Florida legislators may have ended their stalemate last week when they agreed to convene a three-week special session to resolve the budget crisis in June, but they didn’t agree on the hard part: how to resolve stark differences over health care.

Some compromise ideas are emerging — from using $600 million intended for tax cuts to bail out hospitals that treat poor patients, to seeking a one-of-a-kind federal waiver, to drawing federal money without passing it through Medicaid.

But finding the middle ground won’t be easy because of the deep ideological divide between House and Senate Republicans over whether or not to expand Medicaid to draw down federal money to provide healthcare for more than 800,000 uninsured residents who must otherwise rely on charity care.

“Ideologies are going to have to be on the back burner and good public policy that satisfies both sides is going to have to prevail,’’ said Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican whose district has among the state’s highest number of uninsured. She is among a minority of House Republicans who support taking federal money if it’s tied to an aggressive health care reform plan that reduces costs.

The legislative session ended abruptly April 28 when the House adjourned in protest over the impasse.

Among the ideas emerging to bridge the divide: bypass Medicaid, bypass hospitals, seek a new federal waiver or just plug the hole and buy time.

More here.

January 22, 2015

Sobel doubts ability of admnistration to do transparent review of child deaths

Eleanor SobelFrustrated that state officials have scrubbed crucial, and often embarrassing, details from a state report on children who have died from abuse, the head of the key Senate oversight committee said Thursday that it may be time to take the job away from the administration.

“It seems they are less transparent that they have been in the past,’’ said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chairwoman of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, referring to an annual report from the the Child Abuse Death Review Committee that went this year from nearly 200 to 17 pages and failed to include a discussion of the state’s role in the child deaths

“If they are not going to change their ways, maybe we need an alternative,” Sobel said. Her suggestion: change the law to take the job away from the governor’s agency and require an independent panel to review the fatalities, such as the newly-created Florida Institute for Child Welfare, which is housed at Florida State University. 

Current law requires the Florida Department of Health to produce an annual report of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee which reviews each child death, as required under federal law, in order to determine what changes needs to be made to try to prevent future deaths. Until this year, the report had been a robust 197-pages. At the same time the report was scaled back, several veteran and well-respected members of the committee were removed by Surgeon General John Armstrong.

Last year, the report helped to underscore the state’s failure in protecting the children in its custody as the Miami Herald documented the deaths of 477 children whose families were known to DCF in a series of reports, entitled Innocents Lost.

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Braynon named next Senate Democratic Leader

BraynonState Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, will be the next Senate Democratic Leader.

His term begins in November 2016.

Braynon was selected for the role by a unanimous vote of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Wednesday.

"The unity of this vote speaks to the unity of this caucus,” Braynon said in a statement. "And it is that united front that will enable us to do great things for the people of Florida."

Braynon will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Joyner called Braynon a "true champion for the people."

Braynon served in the Florida House from 2008 until 2011. He is a graduate of Florida State University and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said Braynon had "more than earn the trust of his colleagues — he has won the confidence of countless Floridans to fight for them."

"Under Senator Braynon’s leadership, I know the caucus will continue to fight for the values we all share: expanding opportunity, strengthening our schools, and working to grow Florida’s middle class," Tant said.

December 04, 2014

Senate GOP leader Galvano names Denise Grimsley as his deputy

Denise Grimsley

The Florida Senate may be a conservative chamber run by wealthy, white men, but it is gradually injecting some women leaders into the second tier of its leadership ranks. 

Senate President Andy Gardiner last week named Miami Sen. Anitere Flores as chairman of the newly-named Fiscal Policy Committee and appointed five other women senators as committee chairs. Today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano named Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring as the chamber's deputy GOP leader for the 2014-16 legislative term.

Grimsley, a registered nurse, is a legislative veteran who has served as House Appropriations Chair and the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chair.

“As a fifth generation Floridian, a parent, and business woman, Denise knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities of citizens and business owners in our state. She is a conservative leader whose experience will serve our caucus greatly,'' Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a statement. 

Grimsley represents Senate District 21, which consist of Okeechobee, and parts of Highlands, Martin, Osceola, Polk, and St. Lucie counties.

She served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2004-2012 and was elected to the Senate in 2012. Senator Grimsley is a graduate of the University of Miami, with a Masters of Business Administration. She has a daughter and two grandchildren.

November 18, 2014

Florida Senate elects Orlando businessman Andy Gardiner as its 86th president

Gardiner swearing inThe Florida Senate returned Tuesday with all but one of the same members as two years ago and elected Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner as its new leader, adding a younger face to the chamber controlled by conservative, white Republican men.

Gardiner, 45, takes over from Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, as head of the 40-member chamber that includes 26 Republicans. A graduate of Stetson University and the father of three, Gardiner is the vice-president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health. He was first elected to the Florida House in 2002. He was elected to the Senate in 2008. 

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, who helped Gardiner beat back a challenge to his presidency two years ago organized by Gaetz and outgoing Sen. John Thrasher, told the chamber: "I will take a bullet for this man." 

Thrasher has resigned to become president of Florida State University and a special election will be held for his replacement -- who will be the only newcomer to the chamber in two years. 

Garcia introduced a biographical video of Gardiner that included interviews of his sixth grade teacher, his former baseball coach and two long-time friends. 

"The State of Florida is in incredible hands because Sen. Gardiner will put families first before politics,'' Garcia said.  

Gardiner called it a "humbling moment" and noted that his wife, Camille, asked him that morning if he was nervous. "I said, 'No. I'm not nervous,'" but he later realized he forgot to shave. 

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November 17, 2014

Senate's new Dem leader proclaims 'there's no freedom' for many in Florida

Arthenia JoynerSen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa was formally elected Monday as the next leader of the 14-member Senate Democratic caucus, promising to be a voice for "the little" guy in the chamber dominated by 26 Republicans.

In a fiery, poetic speech, the 71-year-old lawyer and one-time civil rights advocate, spelled out the inequities facing Floridians from minimum wage to health care, rigid criminal sentencing and environmental destruction.

"There's no freedom for the more than one million Floridians with no access to a family doctor so long as Medicaid expansion is blocked," Joyner said after being unanimously elected by her Democratic colleagues. "If your family's sick and you cannot get access to a doctor, you are not free."

"When most of the gains are going to the very top, bypassing the ones who have helped to get that success, working people are not free,'' she said. "There's no freedom when tens of thousands of Floridians are locked up for minor drug possessions and their civil rights are not restored because of some arbitrary waiting period.

"There's no freedom when a judge's discretion in sentencing is removed and prison times become mandated by lawmakers far removed from the court rooms.

"There's no freedom when our lakes and rivers and streams slowly suffocate and we cannot drink or swim or boat or fish in our waters. There's no freedom when our homes and businesses and our farms and orchards are under threat because of rising sea levels aimed at Florida's coast line. And there is no freedom when our kids can't get ahead in an education system based on punishment rather than excellence. There's no freedom when unaccountable private schools become more attractive because government has failed the accountable public ones.

"All of these issues individually and collectively can break people already stretched to the breaking point to the edge of being durable. But it doesn't need to be that way. As a woman, especially as a black woman, I learned many years ago what it meant to be on the outside looking in. I remember what it was like when fears of one group trumped the fair treatment of many and denied those willing to work hard the right to the success they had earned. 

"I learned deep down in my heart the constant ache for freedom that some enjoyed but many more were denied. When hard working people are blocked from basic health care because one ideology is against it. When they are shunned from sharing in the success they helped a company achieve, when they are struggling to pay the bills in a system stacked against them, when they have erred in some minor crime and their sentence is unchallengable, that is the edge of the undurable. As the incoming leader, I pledge to you that like I did a quarter century ago, this wall erected in the name of politics to curb the freedom of the people, will also fall,'' she said to applause.

"In grateful acknowledgement of the trust you have placed in me, I will do everything in my power to make it happen -- together we will. he 14 members of this Democratic caucus have a proud tradition for standing for -- as one of my Republican senator once said, the little guy and little girl -- that's who we stand for. 

"The 14 of us believe that moderate minds and willing hearts will embrace what is right for the people over the greed of any one party and the people of Florida will be better for it."

Joyner is a Lakeland native who received her undergraduate and law degrees from Florida A&M University. She was elected to the House in 2000 and to the Senate in 2006.

Several Republican senators attended Joyner's ceremony including outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz, incoming President Andy Gardiner and Sens. Greg Evers, Bill Galvano, Wilton Simpson and Jack Latvala. But some Republicans didn't welcome her message. GOP political operative Rick Wilson quipped on Twitterthat Joyner's speech was "on the cutting edge of the most relevant issues to the greatest number of voters."

Also present was Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, a Texas judge and two Georgia lawmakers who have been long-time associated of Joyner's in a nationwide group of black state legislators.

November 05, 2014

Legislative leadership takes shape: Gardiner names Galvano as majority leader

Bill GalvanoIncoming Senate President Andy Gardiner named Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton as his majority leader Wednesday, as he starts crafting his Republican leadership team. 

“Over years of serving together in the House, and now the Senate, I have witnessed Bill’s strong work ethic, innate intellect and willingness to tackle tough issues,” said Gardiner of Orlando. “Bill has proven he has the support of our caucus and is ready to lead in this important role.”
 
Gardiner, of Orlando, faces an unprecedented challenge as the leadership -- and ego -- quotient of the Senate includes three former Senate presidents and two senators locked in a virtual tie over the Senate presidency in 2016.
 
Senate President Don Gaetz. R-Niceville, steps down from the podium on Nov. 18 to return to the rank and file next year to serve the final two years of his extra term, obtained when the Senate staggered districts and terms because of redistricting and gave some senators extra time. He joins former Senate presidents Gwen Margolis, D-Miami and Tom Lee, R-Brandon, in the chamber. 
 
Sen. Arthenia Joyner of St. Petersburg is the designated Senate Democratic leader. 
 
Galvano represents Senate District 26, which includes DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, and Manatee counties. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2002-2010 and was elected to the Senate in 2012. He earned an associate’s degree from Manatee Community College, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami. Senator He and his wife, Julie, have been married for 21 years and have three children.

October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

August 04, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Sen. Grimsley named to new human trafficking council

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the legislature this session.

The first meeting of the 15-member council will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18th in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol.

Grimsley, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, is the newest addition to the council. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. The two remaining members will be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman, appointed Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking to the council.

The other members are Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabethDudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim SecretaryChristina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Florida ethics commission elects a new chairman

Linda McKee Robison, the former vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was elected its chairman at the panel's July 25th meeting.

Robison, who is a partner in the Corporate Transactions Group of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, has served on the commission since 2011.

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July 23, 2014

Senate Dem leader to Rick Scott: Examine all tax-incentive deals, not just Crist era's

Almost as soon as Gov. Rick Scott's administration announced it would sue a firm to recoup $20 million in a Charlie Crist-era deal, the leader of the Senate Democrats, Fort Lauderdale's Chris Smith, said Florida should broaden its focus. Here's Smith's email and letter:

Dear Governor Scott:

Last week, you announced your intention to file suit against Digital Domain Media Group over its failure to comply with the terms of a $20 million agreement signed by the State of Florida to encourage the company’s relocation to the state and create 500 jobs. The litigation is also reportedly going to include the former governor for his role in the incentives’ approval.

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